Tuesday, 28 March 2017
Questions without Notice
Great Barrier Reef
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for the Environment and Energy, Senator Birmingham. The world is horrified at recent press reports of the totally unexpected and unpredicted back-to-back mass coral-bleaching event on the Great Barrier Reef, the fourth bleaching event in 20 years. Last year's survey of the reef found that 81 per cent of the northern sector was severely bleached and damaged. Reports this week from Professor Terry Hughes, of the James Cook University ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, have suggested that the central section of the reef, from Mackay to Port Douglas, arguably the most important to the tourism industry, is now also suffering from severe bleaching. Can the minister please inform the chamber of the government's understanding of the extent of damage to the reef from warming waters this year and the long-term consequences of this damage?
I thank Senator Whish-Wilson for his question and his interest in this issue. Of course, it is important, as Senator Canavan rightly highlighted yesterday, that we take issues in relation to the Great Barrier Reef incredibly seriously, as we do, but also that we do not engage in scaremongering or excessive embellishment when it comes to issues in relation to the reef that could in fact further damage industry, business and operators up there unnecessarily. The effects of the 2016 and 2017 coral-bleaching events are of deep concern to our government. They emphasise and are the reason for the importance of our joint efforts to build resilience through the Reef 2050 Plan and ongoing management by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.
The article released in Nature on 16 March 2016 highlights that local management of fisheries and water quality offers little resistance to bleaching but may improve prospects for recovery. It is also likely that other ecosystems and species within the World Heritage area, like seagrasses and mangroves, are critically supported by such policy measures. We of course are determined and committed to working on the delivery of our Reef 2050 Plan—
Thanks, Mr President. Indeed, as I was saying, the government is committed to delivering its Reef 2050 Plan to help address many of these issues. I can inform Senator Whish-Wilson that results from the second round of surveys conducted in October-November 2016 are still being analysed. In general, they are consistent with the findings presented in the interim report.
Based on reports and surveys to date, mass coral bleaching has occurred in the Great Barrier Reef for the second consecutive year. Bleaching is consistent with the accumulated build-up of thermal stress across the reef, shown in the Bureau of Meteorology's thermal stress mapping tools. Senator Whish-Wilson, as I said, the advice I have is that in general they are consistent with findings presented in the interim— (Time expired)
I am actually shocked, President, that we do not know the extent of bleaching. My second question relates directly to this. Given that you obviously do not know the extent of bleaching in this back-to-back bleaching event, Senator, is the government, in the face of this uncertainty, reconsidering its lobbying efforts to keep the Great Barrier Reef off the List of World Heritage in Danger, given these recent severe bleaching events?
It is remarkable that Senator Whish-Wilson, firstly, will not take seriously the fact that the government has proper analysis, proper processes, to make sure that when we talk about issues like coral bleaching it is based on the facts and the evidence and what is actually occurring. That is exactly the process that is underway and that is exactly what I outlined before. It is even more staggering, frankly, that the Australian Greens sit there as a cheer squad, hoping, wishing, that the Great Barrier Reef would somehow be listed as further endangered. They are hoping, cheering, wishing, it seems, that they will be able to go out there and say, 'See, we were right all along,' and, in doing so, of course, causing damage to the lifestyles, the jobs and the economy of those in Queensland who rely upon the Great Barrier Reef. Our government is working proactively through our record levels of investment, through our Reef 2050 Plan, to deliver solutions in relation to the reef—efforts that that will make a real difference rather than the damage you wish— (Time expired)
Government senators interjecting—
Could I start again. Professor Terry Hughes, who conducts sea surveys, tweeted, 'I showed the results of aerial surveys of bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef to my students and then we wept.' Clearly the government's Reef 2050 plan is failing.
Senator O'Sullivan interjecting—
You might think it is funny, Senator O'Sullivan, but the rest of Queensland does not.
Do I agree that Senator Whish-Wilson needs a hanky? I think Senator Whish-Wilson needs a lot more than a hanky. Senator Whish-Wilson needs a reality check on a whole range of fronts. Senator Whish-Wilson should welcome, should embrace, the $2 billion of investment in the health of the reef that our government is helping to drive. The fact that we through our Reef 2050 Plan comprehensive actions that are being undertaken in unison with the Queensland government to address the multitude of threats and risks and challenges that the reef faces. Yes, we are taking these issues absolutely seriously. Unlike you, we are not trying to politicise them. We do not wish ill upon the people of Queensland—
Mr President, my point of order: I know there were lots of interjections there, but I wanted to be clear on what my question was. His final quote was: 'It is not too late to save the reef if we leave coal in the ground.' Does the minister agree?
Mr President, again, unlike the Greens, we recognise that addressing global emissions is a global challenge, but it is not dealt with by just crippling one industry in Queensland. Of course, Senator Whish-Wilson wishes to cripple the tourism industry; he wishes to cripple the coal industry. In fact, there is not a job or an industry in Queensland or across the country that the Greens do not seem to wish to cripple. (Time expired)